American novelist Barry Hannah is reputed to have once said, 'I found out about reviews early on. They're mostly written by sad men on bad afternoons.' Presumably he was not talking about positive reviews…
I was once told by an editor when I was struggling to write a review that all that was required was that I gave my opinion. I hope that anything I say about this book will be taken in that light. It is my opinion, nothing more or less.
This is the second book from the author of The Shack
, which became a worldwide phenomenon, tackling the intractable issue of suffering. It personified the Trinity (Papa, Jesus and Sarayu) in a way which was not uncontroversial but to some was very helpful, and I mention this because this book is shot through with a similar motif (Papa God, Jesus, and Grandmother).
I had mixed feelings about the book, but applauded the author’s willingness to tackle such a difficult subject, with at times a sensitivity which suggested his own difficult journey. Anything which starts people debating theology in an accessible way must be good, and I loved the gracious and loving portrayal of God. I therefore came to this book with an open mind.
The book follows the story of Tony, who has lived life entirely selfishly and with a degree of isolation but spectacular financial success. Following a haemorrhage due to an undiagnosed brain tumour, he is in a coma, and this state forces him to examine the state of his soul, externalised in an environment which (predictably) improves as the book progresses. He meets various people as well as Jesus and the Spirit, and this book also follows the same path of dialogue and narrative.
Sadly though, this book never quite captured me. Parts of the dialogue seemed to last a little too long, and aspects of the plot, despite a vivid imagination, I struggled with – such as Tony “inhabiting” various people to see life – literally – through their eyes. I understood the concept, but (for example) his struggling when inhabiting a woman who wanted to go to the toilet seemed rather unnecessary. Normally an avid and swift reader, I had to force myself to finish in order to write the review.
Many people were hugely and positively impacted by The Shack
and I am sure there will be those who find this book engaging and helpful. It takes great vulnerability to go into print with fiction which asks questions like this and I greatly respect him. It wasn’t for me – but in the unlikely event he reads this I hope that he – and those of his fans who do – can put it down to a review being written by a sad woman on a bad morning…